RSS Feed

Category Archives: holiday

Macaron-Making Class in Paris

Posted on

Making MeringueIn Paris, patîsserie shops are a dime a dozen. Unlike in the U.S. where the word “bakery” encompasses all things baked, in France, breads, croissants and the like are found in boulangeries, while patîsseries are where you will find more luxurious desserts like tartes, cakes and the famed macaron cookie.

If you’ve had the good fortune to gaze into the window of a Parisian patîsserie, the bejeweled arrangement of macarons is enough to catch your eye. They say you eat with your eyes first, and these cookies have a way of stealing the show both visually and in taste. In Paris, macarons are everywhere, but you will want to know where to go (Pain du Sucre, Stohrer) to make sure you’re getting your Euros worth. The good ones are worth the bite-size price of admission.

Selecting your macaron might be the biggest challenge of all though, because the flavor profiles are endless. Sweet, savory, a combination of the two. Picking just a few and having them tossed into a bag is a far cry from the satisfaction you get from filling up a box with all of the different colored cookies. It reminds me of picking out a dozen donuts with my dad at Winchell’s when I was little.

For me, the salted caramel variety (typically made with fleur de sel) has proven particularly irresistible, and fortunately for my mouth and unfortunately for my waistline, we found an authentic patîsserie in Houston that would make the bakers in Paris proud. In fact, we took a box along for the flight attendants working our flight from New York to Paris in the hopes of being moved up front. It checked-in full, sadly, but they did supply us with our own box of wine to leisurely serve ourselves over the Atlantic.

But back to the macarons. Getting the Culinary Hopscotch train back on the tracks was much easier on this trip with Working Awaymany cooking classes to choose from. We spent a week in Paris and took day trips this time, so it was easy to set aside an afternoon to learn more about these cookies. I don’t fancy myself a baker. At all. And in fact, I’m not a huge fan of the practice. It’s the measuring. And while I appreciate the science behind baking, I’m much more of ‘a pinch of this, a dash of that’ girl. Please note: there is no room for this methodology with macarons.

For something so small, there are numerous steps that go into making these cookies, but there isn’t much to them ingredients-wise. Right off the bat, I learned that they are gluten-free, which is great for sweets lovers who need to steer clear of wheat. And it’s the unique combination of Italian meringue (egg whites, sugar and water) and almond meal mixed with confectioners sugar that give the delicate little cookies their smooth exteriors and feet in the oven and allow you to fill them with almost anything you can imagine.

Chocolate Orange Filling

I love admiring my macarons before eating them; to look at the sheen and the smoothness of the shell. And now that I know what goes into this process, I believe my admiration is justified. Cracking is one of the biggest problems many bakers face while making macarons, and there are a variety of things that can cause this to happen. An oven that is too hot. One that is not hot enough. Improper sifting of your almond meal and confectioners sugar. Not incorporating the ingredients properly. And perhaps the biggest enemy of all, moisture. Our teacher pointed out that we would be using powdered food coloring to mix into our batter for this very reason. Since some of the color bakes away in the oven, she encouraged us to be generous with the food coloring if we wanted to achieve richer colors.

Batter Bag

We started by creating the fillings for our macarons so they could set-up in the fridge while we worked on the shells. In groups of three, we created a white chocolate-raspberry filling, a pistachio filling and a dark chocolate-orange filling (ours). Once done, they went into the fridge until we needed them again. At this point, we started on the macarons. We heated up the sugar and water to 115 degrees Celsius, flipped on the KitchenAid mixers to get the egg whites going, and when the sugar reached 118 degrees Celsius, we gradually added it to the egg whites, allowing them to mix until the bottom of the steel mixing bowl was comfortable to the touch and they formed stiff peaks.

In the meantime, another member of our team worked on sifting the almond meal and confectioners sugar together, and then added in egg whites and the powdered food coloring. Each team selected two colors for their macarons, ours being a royal purple and fierce magenta-red. Once the meringue was ready, we incorporated it into the colorful batters in three batches (mixing twice, and folding on the third and last go) before filling pastry bags with the mixture.

Proper Spacing

Regarding baking, a Silpat is going to be your best friend because macarons tend to stick and ripping them off a baking sheet will undoubtedly cause them to crack and you will lose the little footing. You can try parchment paper, but a silicon mat will work the best. All you need to do is to pipe small circles about the size of half-dollar onto your baking sheet, giving the macarons a bit of space to expand in the oven. They cook for about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven, and require time to cool before you remove them from your baking sheet. If your macarons are properly cooked, they should remove from the Silpat easily.

Macarons Baking

From here, it’s rather easy. You match-up different shells of similar size, and then pipe in a small amount of filling, twisting as you go to allow the delicious filling to reach the edges. Regarding storing them, freshly made macarons will need to be placed in the fridge for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to come together and help them to set. But they will keep for sometime in the fridge, and you can freeze them for up to three months as well, including any leftover batter or filling. To serve, bring the cookies out of the fridge and allow them to come-up to room temperature. You can decorate macarons both before and after they’ve been baked, the former with things like shredded coconut, crushed speculoos cookies, sprinkles and the like, and after with pastry dusting powders or edible pens.

Bon appetit!

Finished ProductMacaron Technical Decoration Class

La Cuisine Paris

80 Quai de l’Hotel de Ville

www.lacuisineparis.com

Advertisements

Lessons Learned

Posted on
Fish La Boissonerie Paris

Fish La Boissonerie, Paris

Paris is: so far, superb. I found the new apartment easy as pie, my French flooded back to me, and the weather is perfect. Could the winning streak continue?

The day started with me eating lunch at a café around the corner from Fish La Boissonerie because I believed the internet that said it was closed on Sundays. Mistake #1. And instead of walking the 10 extra feet to investigate it firsthand, I gave into my craving for a croque and the cute overalls the servers wear. Mistake #2. After lunch, I walked by to snap that photo on the left and saw people coming out the door. There are people dining inside as I’m simultaneously taking the photo and kicking myself. The internet lied. Lesson learned.

Full from Bar du Marché, I stopped in for a glass of wine at a restaurant that was recommended by a friend on another trip. It gave me the chance to decide if I should brave the cold for the night time bike tour or go back to Fish for dinner? I picked up the phone and called them to be sure they were open, and yes, they were. Settled: dinner at Fish. If you’ve eaten there before, you know why the decision was simple. But here comes mistake #3: not bothering to inquire about their hours and just assuming they would be open when I was ready for my early supper. I walked back past the restaurant at 5pm, and they didn’t open back up until 7pm. Oy!

After hoofing it back to my apartment in the 2nd, I couldn’t bring myself to walk all the way back down there. I was exhausted from catching the early Eurostar this morning and going to bed late in London (this morning). And I really did walk quite a bit today. Now, in a cruel twist of fate, I’m up writing this at nine minutes to midnight because I can’t sleep. I could have doubled back to Fish four times over by this point. I guess inter-Europe jetlag does exist.

What I did discover is that my apartment is a pitching wedge away from Rue Montorgeuil, so I mustered up enough energy to go to dinner at Little Italy Caffe. Italian food served by a guy from Brooklyn in Paris. It was good, but it wasn’t Fish. And now I feel like I squandered the only chance I had to eat at there on this trip, which is exactly the case (my eating trail is already paved). If you think you can’t plan an entire trip to Paris around eating, well, then you obviously have never been to Paris.

Looks like I better start planning a follow-up trip for the feeding frenzy!

Wheels Up in Less than a Week!

Posted on

Dorm Microwave and FridgeOne week from today, I’ll be sitting in sunny Orlando at our first day of JetBlue training. I’m in the process of getting organized and not the least bit worried about packing, which is why I have time for this blog. Yes, this is abnormal for most females, but I packed in a carry-on for three months when I went to Europe for Culinary Hopscotch. I figure this should be a drop in the bucket.*

The thing that has me the most perturbed isn’t what I’ll wear on the first day of school or if I’m going to forget all of the airport codes when I get there. It’s how I’m going to eat for three weeks. You didn’t think I’d let this get too far from Culinary Hopscotch’s original roots, did you?

Here’s the deal. Breakfast is included at the hotel, but we’re on our own for lunch and dinner. Seems fine, but I refuse to subject myself to Tony Romas and other airport-adjacent chain restaurants for 21 days. My waistline and palette can’t handle it. And when you factor in that our rooms only have a microwave and a fridge, I get a familiar, September 1998 feeling, like when I flung open the door to my UCSB dorm for the first time.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, so I’ve conjured up a manual, we’ll call it, to help me think of things I can easily prepare with these rudimentary appliances. Hop into the suitcase, PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook…you’re coming to Orlando with me! Turns out that finding a microwave-friendly cookbook is, ironically, kind of a PITA.

While I won’t “Let PETA turn (my) room into the campus destination for amazing vegan food” (it seriously says that), I’m hoping that the “on a budget” and the “most complicated kitchenware you’ll ever need is a microwave” advertisements pan out. Screw the parts about stocking my mini fridge with things that never had a pulse and not putting metal in the microwave; I’m appliance-challenged, not an idiot. Or maybe I am. I spent $10.50 of my hard-earned American money on a book with a recipe called “Brainy Bac’n Cheese Toast.” Top one slice of bread with tomatoes, fakin’ bits, and cheese. Microwave and top with the remaining slice of bread.

Here’s hoping I don’t toss PETA in the trash on my way to a heaping plate of Tony Romas’ ribs. Or worse, use the book as a placemat.

*I’m also checking bags for the first time in about five years thanks to a business-casual dress code

Cooking at Casa de Colores

Posted on

Due to technical difficulties, I cannot get the photos off my camera. I will update the post with my actual pictures as soon as I can. In the meantime, this is the grinder at the tortilleria where we sampled the amazing Nixtomal corn tortillas!

After spending a week in Cabo at perhaps the most ridiculous house I’ve ever stepped foot in, I had an epiphany: working after a week of vacation reminds me that I’d rather be on vacation. I think I’ve been holding onto this post in my head as a way of prolonging the week we spent doing nothing. Well, almost nothing. Between Coronitas and dips in the pool, I managed to sneak in a cooking class. And boy…I’m glad I did.

If you ask an American what Mexican food is, you’ll get a different answer depending on the geographic location of the person you’re interviewing. In middle America, Tex-Mex is all the rage, but a Californian would hang you for trying to pass off  anything as Mexican that wasn’t fresh tacos or a bulging burrito. And then there’s actual Mexican food that doesn’t resemble either of these things.

My Cabo cooking class was titled “Mexican Comfort Foods.” Not having a ton of experience in the genre, short of what I filled up on at Gay and Larry’s growing up (RIP), I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. I met Donna in the parking lot of a large grocery store near downtown, and truth be told, I wasn’t sure who I was looking for, how many people were going to be in our class, or what we’d be doing that day. One of my favorite parts about taking all of these different classes around the world is that no two have proved to be the same yet. And this was no different.

Once we assembled our group, Donna had me jump into her car and she whisked us over to an authentic tortilleria for lunch. Lunch? I thought I was going to a cooking class. Smart not to argue, we pulled up to the al fresco restaurant and sampled some of the freshest tortillas this side of Oaxaca. The “Tortilla Goddesses,” as Donna so dubiously named them, barely speak English and turn out hot corn tortillas straight from the comal. They start by making their own Nixtomal, a mixture of corn, limestone and filtered water that’s passed through a grinder. That’s their masa, and this technique has been going on for thousands of years thanks to the Aztecs. There I was, literally eating history. My God, history tastes good.

From there, we headed back to Casa de Colores, or “House of Colors” in Spanish, where Donna lives. Her charming abode is perched on a lookout in Cabo and you can see all the way to the ocean. It’s also aptly named–the terracotta exterior is trimmed with colors borrowed from the rainbow, and in Mexico, this aesthetic just works. She conducts the cooking classes from the upstairs part of her house in a well-equipped kitchen that is perfect for groups of about six people. That day, there were five of us and Donna.

When we arrived, she served us a delicious Agua de Mandarinas “fresh water” to wet our whistle and get us ready for a serious dose of Mexican comfort classics. We started with a discussion of the comal, a word she uttered at the tortilleria that left all of us scratching our heads. Whether industrial sized or plate-sized, a comal is a staple in a Mexican kitchen. Put simply, it’s a disk of steel that you cook on with dry heat. We immediately put the comal to work with roma tomatoes, a white onion, serrano chilies, and garlic. We were making a cooked salsa!

After we blistered the ingredients on the comal, we transferred them to a blender and pulsed it all together. The juice from the tomatoes served as the liquid, and what we tasted was smokey and fresh. To deepen the flavor further and thicken it up, we “fried the salsa” for 10-15 minutes in a Tbsp of oil on the stove top. It really did the trick, enriching the flavor and deepening the impact.

That was our fresh salsa, but we also had a discussion and worked with dried chilies. I think one of the most common misconceptions is that Mexican ingredients like the ones we used are hard to find. Guilty of the same assumption, I was wondering where I was going to find dried guajillo chilies in Portland. So you can imagine my surprise when I flipped open the Penzey’s Spice catalog that came in the mail to find they sell them there…right up the street. I also happened to spot Nopales (cactus paddles) in our regular old Safeway yesterday too. So, there you have it…even in rainy Portland, we’re cookin’ Mexican!

Back to the guajillos. These deep red peppers are fairly mild but have a great flavor, and are very popular in Mexican sauces. Donna pulled out a few dried ones, we smelled them and felt their texture, and then we chopped them up. We reconstituted them with boiling water from the stove, and let them sit for a bit to come back to life. This “Devil Salsa” that we were putting together was a cinch. We pureed the chilies in a blender with their water, and then passed them through a sieve to strain out the tough parts of the skin that no self-respecting human would want to chew on. From there, we simmered the sauce for a bit and that was that. We would turn our salsa into a masa dumpling soup, use it later on our chile rellenos, and Donna also mentioned that we could use it to make “Camarones Diavola,” or devil shrimp served over rice. Another option: add chicken stock and turn it into a tortilla soup. “Devil Salsa:” the gift that keeps on giving!

Another enlightening part of this class was the chile relleno. I remember my Grandma Elsie always ordering this dish, but I never really knew what it was. With my childish, undeveloped palette, I never asked to try it, but suspected that it was a deep-fried chili pepper stuffed with cheese. I was sort of right. The only difference in the traditional Mexican version is that it’s coated with a fluffy egg mixture that creates an omelette around the chili when it’s fried in the hot oil. A lot of restaurants will take short cuts and bread and deep-fry a chili to pass off as a relleno. It’s a cheap knockoff though, kind of like plastic shoes that cut your feet.

If you’re headed to Cabo, take a break from the chi-chi’s and guys selling your name on a grain of rice. Make some time to venture out of the mayhem and sample some authentic Mexican cuisine.  At Casa de Colores, you’ll learn about a tortilla environment, discuss moles, and talk a lot about Mexico’s culinary culture that stretches from border to border. And you’ll also start to realize that although Mexico borders Texas, it scoffs at anything Velveeta or Rotel related.

Casa de Colores…A Tasty Corner of Cabo

Email Donna at brisasjones@yahoo.com for a schedule of classes

Find Yourself the Spice Monkey

Posted on

There has got to be a way for me to convince Nikita to open a Spice Monkey in the USA. First things first: convincing him to give me the recipe for the flat rice snack we had. I’m vowing to figure it out.

Today, I traveled far from Fulham to Alexandra Palace. My beginners Indian cooking class was at Nikita’s family home, and I knew upon entry that I was in for a truly authentic experience. His adorable tiny mother, Mrs. G, acted as sous chef, and despite my early arrival, they welcomed me in from the impending rain. While we were chatting, I had a look at the table that was covered in an array of colorful spices, the nucleus of any Indian recipe. Clearly, spices were going to be a large part of our conversation.

Our class took place in their greenhouse, and there were just three of us and Nikita, which was fabulous from a learner’s vantage point. We spent a solid hour pouring over the different spices, their taste, their texture, and their origins. He had everything, from dried coriander and two kinds of cardamom to mustard seeds, fenugreek, and ground red pepper. Let us not forget turmeric; my hands and nails are currently stained a gorgeous yellow hue. He even had fresh turmeric, which I had never seen nor tasted before, but it was amazing. I presumed it was ginger by it’s looks, but as they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

From these spices, we created a variety of masalas. Garam masala is probably the most common and widely recognised, and in a grinder, we made our own version after toasting the different seeds in a dry pan. We also created a version that we didn’t toast at all, and it was great to be able to compare and contrast the two with our noses. Much of what we did today was sensory oriented. It was a wonderful way of getting familiar with so many spices that we have seen, heard about, or shoved to the back of our cupboards after using them just one time. One of Nikita’s biggest points was not to get overwhelmed by the options; use what you like that day, and if you leave something out (like we did a few times), c’est la vie.

Our menu today consisted of aromatic rice, Mrs. G’s chicken curry, cauliflower bhagi, potato curry, and shrikanda, an Indian dessert. I had no idea that Indians had such a sweet tooth, but evidently, that is the case, and randomly, I think the dessert may have been my favourite dish. Most people think of curry as blow-your-head-off hot, oily, and generally difficult to prepare, but I learned today that none of that is the case. In fact, with some thoughtful planning, I think an Indian feast would be the perfect way to entertain. We need to be more adventurous with our palettes in America, and it would be nice if you didn’t have to drive ten towns away to find a decent curry. I always lament that when leaving London because there are about as many Indian places here as there are Mexican joints in California. Are all of them good? Now, I think we all know the answer to that one.

Point being, don’t be discouraged when it comes to experimenting with Indian food in your own kitchen. Try your hand at it with a cookbook and only buy small quantities of the spices until you decide which combinations suit your taste best. Better yet, if you can swing it, make a trip to Spice Monkey and take a class. You’ll be happy you did. I can’t tell you how much easier it was to learn from an expert and see things firsthand. I will be back for another class with Nikita, mark my words.

For now, I’m hanging up my apron to head back to America. Next stop: California followed by a more permanent stop in Portland, Oregon. It may be time for a move into the culinary world, because with each of these classes, I realise more and more that this is what I’m meant to be doing whether it’s stirring, writing, teaching, or otherwise.

The Spice Monkey
http://www.spicemonkey.co.uk
info@spicemonkey.co.uk

Culinary Hopscotch Continues!

Posted on

I cannot wait for June. I just can’t. Not only are we heading to Capri to see our good friends tie the knot, but we will also be spending some time in London. 

It’s an amazing city…a favorite in fact. And despite the stereotypes about the food, I’m planning to take some cooking classes while I’m there. 

Keep your eye on the blog for the latest and greatest!

Apple Pie Stuffing

Posted on
Apple Pie Stuffing

Nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” like stuffing and apple pie, so I figured, ‘Why not combine them both together?’ I wrote this recipe last year, but in the mayhem of a smallish kitchen, cooking it got put on the back burner, as they say.

One of my favorite things about stuffing is that all you need is your imagination, and some cubed, day-old bread. The rest can literally be a combination of whatever you like. 
Prepped Ingredients

In this recipe, peppered applewood bacon counteracts the sweetness of the apples. And what’s a good apple pie without the crust? Here, breadcrumbs, melted butter, and thyme lay the foundation for this melange of flavors and Thanksgiving staples.
Happy Thanksgiving from Culinary Hopscotch…enjoy!

Apple Pie Stuffing
Par-Baked Crust and Stuffing

Crust

  • 1 Tbsp. Thyme, chopped
  • 2 1/2 Cups Plain Breadcrumbs, plus 1/4 cup
  • 4 Tbsp. Melted Butter, plus 1 Tbsp. 
  
Stuffing

  • 1/4 Cup Sweet Yellow Onion, chopped
  • 2 Stalks of Celery, chopped
  • 1 Leek, chopped (white part only)
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil 
  • 3 Sweet Red Apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Dash of Nutmeg, Allspice, and Cinnamon
  • 6 Slices of Applewood Smoked Bacon, crisped and crumbed
  • 1/2 Loaf of Day-Old French Bread, cubed
  • 2 Cups Chicken Stock
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Oven-Bake Bacon for Easy Clean-Up
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Drizzle the breadcrumbs and thyme with melted butter. Combine until moistened, but not wet. Press the mixture into the bottom of a metal pie tin and par-bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  3. After prepping the apples, cover them with lemon juice to prevent browning and set aside.
  4. Saute the onion, celery and leek in olive oil with the additional 1 Tbsp of butter over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Add in the apples, and season with nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. Continue to saute the mixture until the apples begin to soften, about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. In a separate pan, cook the bacon slices until crispy. Drain them on paper towels, and reserve the drippings. When the bacon is cool enough to handle, crumble it.
  6. In a large bowl, toss the saute mixture with the crumbled bacon, cubed bread, and 1 cup of the chicken stock to start. This mixture shouldn’t be very wet, so eyeball the consistency and add more if necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Pour the mixture into the crust, and cover with the remaining 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs. Drizzle with the reserved bacon drippings and bake for 45 minutes uncovered.